If Pasco schools bond fails? Year-round schooling

PASCO — Too many kids, not enough space and no desire for new taxes — these are the conditions the Pasco School District faces going into its April bond election.

Knowing there’s a chance Pasco voters may for the first time in many years reject a property tax increase to build schools, the school board decided to tentatively pursue plan B — multi-track, year-round school.

The board unanimously voted Tuesday to keep moving on mixing up the traditional school year as a short-term solution to its overcrowding problem. The board also established a set of guidelines for the possible transition.

The principle is simple — more kids can attend a school if they’re not all in it at once.

It means getting rid of the annual pattern that’s been in place pretty much since there have been public schools. Instead, a school’s students would be split up into, for example, four groups.

Each group would go to school for 60 days, stay home for 20, then go back for 60, and so on, according to one model used in other places.

The trick is to have the four schedules staggered so that on any given day only three of the groups are in the building.

And that’s pretty much it. A few months on, one off, no other breaks — aside from legal holidays — and no more long summer off.

By the stroke of a pen — or, really, months of careful planning — 25 percent building capacity is gained.

The careful planning and outreach to parents is important, a man who has been through the process told an assembly of teachers and district officials last week.

Paul Dugan recently retired as the superintendent of the Washoe County School District, which includes Reno, Nev. The district established year-round school under his watch and he came to Pasco to share his experience.

Switching from the traditional school year had become necessary after a bond failed in his district, Dugan said. Officials quickly decided only to target elementary schools with the new program.

“It’s impossible to offer (advanced placement) classes at all tracks in high school, for example,” Dugan said. “Sports become a lot more challenging at the high school level, too.”

The switch to year-round takes a long time to set up, Dugan said. The decision has to be made a year before implementation.

But after a little getting used to, the system worked out for everyone involved in Reno, he said. Siblings were put on the same track, teachers settled into the new schedules and families found they could take vacations “when Disneyland is empty,” Dugan joked.

Pasco School District’s executive director of operations, John Morgan, asked the board Tuesday to approve a set of guidelines for the task force he heads. The group’s goals seemed closely modeled after Reno’s program.

The group will develop a plan along these lines:

* Only elementary schools that grow past a certain enrollment level switch to the new school year.

* Consider legal holidays and athletic activities in the new schedule.

* Maintain a 180-day school year.

* Keep siblings on the same schedule.

* Develop a process to come off year-round school as new schools get built.

Superintendent Saundra Hill said the district had considered other options to house all of its students without building new schools, such as running a morning and an afternoon shift per day, or converting empty supermarkets in Pasco into schools, but none proved as cost-effective and doable as year-round school.

The task force meets monthly and will give a full report and recommendation to the board in August or September, Hill said.